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Reviewed by: Bryan Pizzuti [03.18.03]
Developer: Egosoft
Publisher: TBA

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It seems like space combat simulators are starting to become popular again, after a long hiatus.  One of the favorites was a game released way back in the DOS days called Wing Commander: Privateer.  It offered the player the opportunity to be their own boss, and become a pirate, assassin, or merchant as they saw fit. Also, the plot in the game was considered optional, which was unique for the time.

Privateer was actually based on a game even further back in history, called Elite, which was basically the same thing only without any plot at all. Back in the days of Elite and Privateer (especially Elite) however, things were still primitive.  Graphics were 2D or primitive versions of software 3D rendering, universes basically had to be pre-scripted.  This limited how worlds could be constructed and evolved, but it was the best we had at the time.  I still dig up a DOS machine to play Privateer on occasion, or an emulator to play Elite; that's how good they were (and are).

Privateer actually had a sequel released around 1995, but it was still a DOS game (And Privateer 2 didn’t go over so well anyway).  Trading/Fighting/Elite style games didn't reach Windows for a while after that. The first two likely candidates were Tachyon: The Fringe, which didn't offer nearly as much freedom as Privateer, but had entertaining voiceovers by Bill Campbell.  X: Beyond the Frontier was Egosoft's first release and had a bit more freedom.  As a matter of fact, it starts pretty close to being like Privateer, where you have to start with simple trading missions to upgrade your ship and so on.  But in here you were stuck with one ship, though you could do a lot of upgrading. You could also build your own factories, something you couldn't do in Privateer. There were also no non-plot missions, unlike Privateer, and progress was slow due to the large amount of cargo shipping and trading necessary to make money, so it had its problems too (especially in forcing a prospective mercenary to do trading).

The recent release of Freelancer had high hopes for many, but while fundamentally a great and enjoyable game, falls short to recapture the depth of Privateer.  In Freelancer you have a choice of being a hitman who does odd jobs and sells junk left behind by enemies, or a pirate who sells junk left behind by ships you've just attacked.  You can also do some trading, but you can only own one ship at a time, so you'll have to give up your fighter for a freighter.  More in this in our forthcoming review.

Let's not revisit Battlecruiser Millennium, which was also billed as an attempt to be a similar game, and just go into a summary of the latest of the "Elite" style games: X2 - The Threat.

First of all, it's based on the same ideas, all the way back to Elite.  Obviously, its space combat, and it involves trading, upgrading, and so on.  They claim you can become a trader, bounty hunter, pirate, miner, et cetera.  Typical Privateer/Elite fare, which is rare enough, so we'll certainly take it.  One of the pieces of information is obviously (and welcome) compensation for only being able to pilot one craft in the original X.  In X2, there will be over 70 craft that the player can pilot, which might be OVERcompensation, but we'll happily take it nonetheless.  Apparently, some of these will be capital-ship class, which sparks even more interest.

The "living universe" concept is alive and well here in X2 as well.  Apparently, this game will have other "freelancers" and privateers that you must actually compete with for jobs, and AI scripts that can run factories and other ships for you. Also, the trading is supposed to involve a dynamic economy, with prices rising and falling based on supply and demand.

We had a chance to talk with the guys over at Egosoft about X2, and get some of our questions answered, especially about the interesting buzzwords like "dynamic economy" and "living universe."  And we also had to know a bit about those 70 ships, of course.  It's apparent that Egosoft is very excited about releasing this game.  In fact, they’re so stoked about it that they tended to get a bit long-winded in their answers.  It's worth the read though, since they give out quite a bit of information about this upcoming game, and explain it quite well.  They also sent us a few screenshots, which we've put in for you to check out as well.

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